By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - Zach Parise is an American hockey star living the Canadian dream.
A hockey loving kid, who grew up learning the game on outdoor rinks and ponds, Parise was driving a Zamboni, cleaning the slick and shiny ice at the local arena before he was old enough to drive a car.
The son of a famous hockey-playing father J.P. Parise, who was a member of the fabled Canadian team that faced off against the mighty Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series that is celebrated as the most important moment in the nation's sporting history, the young Parise was living every Canadian kid's fairytale.
Except for one thing. He's American.
Parise's hockey pedigree may be Canadian but his passport, citizenship and loyalties all lie south of the 49th parallel that divides Canada and the United States.
Next month the hard-working Minnesota Wild winger will wear the stars and stripes at the Sochi Olympics, just as he did four years earlier at the Vancouver Winter Games where the U.S. lost the gold medal match in overtime to Canada.
"I don't think we knew what we were capable of accomplishing (in Vancouver)," reflected Parise. "We found some good goaltending and the next thing you know we are in the gold medal game and just the experience being in Canada, that game, the excitement.
"We just thought in our minds we had a chance to win a gold.
"Hopefully this time around we'll get our chance, another opportunity to play in that game and give it our best shot."
While Sidney Crosby's golden goal has evolved into a bit of Canadian folklore, Parise's role in the drama is often forgotten, the All-Star winger setting the table for the edge-of-your-seat finish when he banged home a loose puck past netminder Roberto Luongo with 24 seconds left in the third period to send the final into overtime.
It was a typical Parise goal, a product of hard-work, hockey instinct and skill.
"I think what we really excelled in was scoring by committee, you kind of got the sense it was a different line contributing at different times and that's how good teams win," said Parise, downplaying his contribution.
"We were fortunate enough to have that, getting big goals from different players at different times.
"I think we have a team that is going to be pretty similar."
Parise would finish his first Olympics tied for the U.S. team lead in scoring with four goals and four assists in six games, a place on the Vancouver Games All-Star team and a silver medal.
Not a bad fortnight's work for a player once deemed too small for the NHL.
Taken with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2003 NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils, Parise has blossomed into one of the NHL's elite scorers and a dependable point producer who has notched more than 30 goals in five of his nine seasons, including a career best 45 in the 2009-10 campaign.
"I don't care. I've learned there are people who have their own opinions," Parise told TeamUSA.org. "I've heard the whole, 'He's too small,' before I made it to the NHL.
"Again, I don't care. You know you're not going to please everybody. That's the way life is.
"You're not going to make everybody happy and you're wasting energy trying to. So, I try not to pay attention too much attention to that."
NHL teams, however, have been paying very close attention to Parise and when the 29-year-old came on the free agent market in 2012, the Wild repatriated the Minnesota native luring him back to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul where he grew up, with a 13-year $98 million contract.
When it comes to the Olympics and the Stanley Cup Parise has yet to experience the thrill of victory.
After a heartbreaking overtime loss at the Vancouver Olympics, Parise had more disappointment in 2012 when the Devils reached the Stanley Cup finals only to fall to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.
"It's tough to compare, I get that question a lot," pondered Parise, who wears number 11 with the Wild, the same number that his father J. P. wore when he captained the North Stars. "I've been either fortunate or unfortunate enough to lose in both finals.
"Neither feel very good. I would take either at this point.
"You grow up here and you dream of winning the Stanley Cup and not so much about the Olympic gold.
"But once you experience it, once you've played for the national team a few times all of sudden the importance of that Olympic gold you see what it signifies for the country.
"Either one, I'm not picky at this point, I'd take anything."
(Editing by Julian Linden)